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Lauren’s blog covers topics that impact your finances, your family, and your future. Is there a topic you’d like Lauren to tackle? We’d love your suggestions and feedback.

Ready to help the planet and your portfolio? ESG investing may be the answer

Ready to help the planet and your portfolio?
ESG investing may be the answer

I braved last weekend’s brutal heat wave to meet a friend for Sunday brunch in Corona del Mar. My friend and I wandered into a home décor store and saw some beautiful decorative coral. As someone who loves diving and the sea (see my blog post Security vs. Freedom and the magnificent merits of flying business class), the display made me suddenly sad. We humans have been killing off the reefs for decades through coral mining, overfishing, and human pollution—including our sunscreen. Then I noticed a small sign that said this gorgeous coral was not mined, but farmed. Even better, the profits are used to help save and restore the reefs. A relief? Yes, but there’s much more to worry about.

Devastating heat waves across North America just killed more than 50 people in Quebec. At least 100 people died after record rainfall caused flooding and landslides in western Japan. It’s no wonder Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg are so committed to battling climate change through September’s Global Climate Action Summit.

If, like me, you’re feeling that recycling, reducing, reusing, and giving up straws is just the beginning, you may be a perfect candidate for ESG investing. ESG is an excellent way to put your money to work to make a global difference while also potentially improving your returns over the long term.

What is ESG investing?

ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance. Funds that are identified as ESG investments include stocks of companies that adhere to ESG guidelines. While each company’s ESG policy is different, an ESG label generally implies that a fund includes companies that are focused on helping improve environmental and social concerns. Selection criteria also exclude companies that contribute to or are responsible for human rights violations, environmental damage, or other violations of fundamental ethical norms, including the production of weapons that violate fundamental humanitarian principles through their normal use. What is particularly attractive about ESG funds is that they allow you, the investor, to align your investments with your values. 

That said, investing in this way hasn’t always been easy, nor did it necessarily reward investors. ESG investing grew out of a movement called Socially Responsible Investing—or SRI—that focused primarily on excluding companies that were considered ‘morally undesirable.’ The problem: there was little or no focus on economic value. The result: many of these investments didn’t qualify as much more than feel-good investments that were used by a niche group of investors: Millennials, liberals, and anyone who put their hearts far above their wallets. For these reasons, our team at Klein Financial Advisors has steered clear of SRI and ESG—until now.

For those of us who are concerned about environmental, social, and corporate governance issues and our wallets, new research shows that the approach to ESG investing has evolved to make it a viable and more potentially profitable investment option.

Thisis precisely why we are now pleased to offer our clients a selection of ESG funds as part of our carefully selected menu of available investment options. While we have not elected ESG investments in every asset class, we have approved ESG options in domestic core, small-cap value, international large-cap, and emerging markets. Each of these funds selects stocks based not only on a company’s ESG policy but also on how that policy adds value to the company’s offering. I’m not the authority on ESG investing, but I rely on solid information, research, and analysis from experts. I believe choosing ESG investments based on value makes sense.

If you’re one of our clients, we’ll be sharing these options with you at our next meeting. (Feel free to reach out sooner if you want the details right away!) Otherwise, I urge you to talk to your Certified Financial Planner (CFP) to get clear, independent guidance on ESG investing. Carefully choosing advisors and investments ensures your dollars impact issues that matter to you and that your investments offer potential for growth over the long term. After all, driving global change and investing are both all about the future.

In the past 50 years, we’ve come a long way in reducing carbon emissions. In 1970, there were 22.5 tons of carbon emissions per person per year. Today, that number is down to 16. The Paris Climate Agreement has set a target of 2.1 tons of carbon emissions per person. Unless we make individual and collective efforts to support change, we risk undoing that past progress and creating further, irreversible damage to the planet.

Making changes isn’t easy. I know. I drive a gas guzzler (but I drive it as little as I can). I had the air conditioning blasting the entire weekend (but I don’t think I would have made it to Monday if I hadn’t!). And I’m taking a long flight to Tanzania on Wednesday (if I could get there any other way but by plane, I would!). However, I am taking little steps. I make sure my fruit is from California. I buy eggs from a local farm. I’ve broken myself of the habit of using straws. I have a long way to go, but I try a little every day. If you, too, want to make a difference, look at specific actions you can take. Vote for representatives committed to combating climate change. Watch the live broadcast of the Global Climate Action Summit. And consider including ESG investing as part of your investment strategy. If you have any questions or are looking for suggestions, we’re always here to help.

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From technology hell to financial nirvana, connecting the dots is the key

From technology hell to financial nirvana, connecting the dots is the key

I confess, I’ve been in technology hell for months. It’s not the first time. As a woman of a certain age, I wasn’t born into a tech-driven world like the Millennials. I don’t speak this language well— at best, I can converse with a thick accent, and I’m by no means fluent. Yes, I own an Alexa (Amazon’s allegedly life-changing device that can, according to my son Adam and my tech guy Jason, do just about anything I could ask). To date I’ve asked “her” to do two things for me: tell me the weather forecast, and set a timer for 10 minutes.I’m clearly missing the boat! But I just don’t get it.

I suppose that’s why I listened with a bit of guilty satisfaction when my friend Lily recently told me her saga of buying and installing a fancy new video doorbell and her own hell trying to get it installed. Long story short: it took 4 or 5 different people to help before Lily was able to see the person on the other side of her door. At least I know I’m not alone in my suffering and frustration! It does help, but it also has me wishing there were professional “technology planners” out there—someone to help me, Lily, and everyone else who doesn’t speak the language of technology get all of these potentially great tools to work together so we can, finally, use them to our advantage. That would be pure technology nirvana!

It makes me happy to realize that the role we play in most of our clients’ lives is to help connect the dots of their financial lives to create at least some level of financial nirvana. If you’re not yet there (or at least on your way), asking yourself these three questions may nudge you in the right direction:

  • Are you holding on to solutions that were great 5 years ago, but that aren’t adding value today?
    I have a box of “old technology” at home that I can’t get myself to throw away (that 5- pound laptop was wonderful in its day!), but deep down I know there’s no reason to keep it. In just a few years, everything in technology has changed. The same is often true in your financial life. Transitions—marriage, divorce, job change, retirement, losing a spouse, relocating—all of these things and more can have a dramatic impact on how you should be saving, spending, and investing. New financial products may be available today that didn’t exist five years ago. Are you using a Health Savings Account (HSA) to save for future medical expenses tax-free? Is your investment strategy aligned with your current goals and time horizon? Has your tax strategy changed to address the new tax law? Now is the time to let go of the old and bring in the new to connect all the right dots.

     
  • Do you understand the language of money?
    When we moved our office systems to the cloud, I wasn’t even sure what “cloud” meant. All I really knew was that it could protect client data and keep our software up to date with the latest versions. I drove our technology provider crazy. I asked a lot of questions so I could communicate in their language: the language of technology. Like technology, money has its own specialized vocabulary. Do you speak the language? Do you know the difference between good debt and bad debt? Do you understand compounding? Do you know what a CD is and its role in your portfolio? (If not, start by reading my blog When did it become ok to be financially illiterate?) The more you understand the language of money, the easier it will be to connect every aspect of your financial life.
  • Are you reaping the rewards of a fully connected financial life?
    Alexa can be used to manage your music, your thermostat, the lights in your house, and more—but only if the device is properly connected to everything else (or so they tell me!). Connecting all the pieces of your financial life is just as vital. Your investments, taxes, savings, budget, estate plan, and insurance are all interrelated. A “connected” strategy is the key to growing and protecting your assets over the long term. A great first step is to start connecting your financial life using an online app like eMoney. It’s a great tool that gives you a birds-eye-view of what you own and what you owe so you can both manage your finances and collaborate even better with your advisor.

I’m a firm believer in the importance of “knowing what I don’t know” and doing everything I can to learn more. To get there, I get help wherever I can find it. That includes hiring a professional to help me find a way out of my current technology hell. We may have moved everything to the cloud, but there are still some disconnects. Suddenly my scanner button isn’t working, two of my apps won’t open, and Skype thinks I don’t have a camera on my computer. Ugh! But I have a tech team coming to the office today, and I’m counting on them to fix what’s broken and to help me understand how to keep everything connected moving forward. We’ll be one step closer to technology nirvana.

I urge you to do the same when it comes to your finances. Ask questions. Get answers. And get the help you need to create a fully connected financial life that takes you one step closer to your financial nirvana—however you define it. That’s one thing I’m pretty certain Alexa can’t do for you… yet!

 

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Trumped

Trumped

For me—a woman, a feminist, a liberal, a democrat—what happened on Tuesday night was more than unexpected. No matter how you voted (and note that only about 50% of Americans exercised their right to vote), the results stunned the world. An ABC reporter said it was the “biggest upset in 100 years.” Others have likened the outcome to the Brexit surprise in England.My take is that Trump showed us that humans are still driven by animal spirits, and when those animal spirits are roused, they are easily riled. When people are persuaded to fear for their personal safety, they leave sanity behind.

So here we are. And while there are many (many!) questions in our future, the most pressing question that many of you have asked is: what’s next?

From a market perspective, it’s likely the situation will mirror what followed England’s Brexit vote. The markets do not like surprises, which is why the Dow Futures were down 800 points once it was clear Trump was going to win the election.So it was even more surprising that US Equity prices were relatively flat this morning, and even closed slightly higher by the end of the day. Perhaps the market will remain positive, but a Trump Presidency has the whole world concerned about the immediate future of the world’s most significant economic, military, and moral power. This uncertainty may create volatility in the US and global markets. Volatility is something to be mentally prepared for, but (and here’s the good news) it’s not a situation that requires tactical changes to your portfolio. Here’s why:

1. Our portfolios are constructed based on academic evidence and economic fundamentals.
While a change in our country’s administration can feel overwhelming, the foundational elements of your investment strategy have not changed. The US has been in a slow and steady recovery from the Great Recession, and despite the rhetoric of the election, our economic fundamentals are stronger than they’ve been in years. Also, while presidential elections do add a layer of uncertainty—and the markets don't like uncertainty—they historically don't have a long-term effect on market performance. Over time, money will find value, and that is unlikely to change. Now is the time to trust the fundamentals.

2. In times of volatility, deserting the market is the worst possible financial decision.
While there’s not even a hint of a market crash at the moment, take a moment to think back to 2008. We all know someone who panicked and pulled assets out of the market and went to cash. Those who did are still trying to recover. Many never will. Those who stayed calm and trusted the market are on stronger financial ground than before the market plummeted. Stay calm. Don’t react to headlines. And trust your strategy.

3. Our government remains the best government in the history of the world.
Don’t misunderstand me; as a feminist, I am utterly disappointed that Hillary Clinton—a women who is highly qualified and supported by the most respected and well informed Americans—just lost an election to a man who I and many others believe lacks the qualification, temperament, and moral fiber to be President. However, while the US government is not perfect, it is carefully designed with checks and balances to prevent swift and undesirable change. Even if Trump wants to fulfill some of his most volatile campaign promises, we must trust that those checks and balances will prevent damaging change and, ideally, sustain recent progress in civil rights, environmental protections, and fiscal responsibility.

When President Obama addressed the nation this morning, he was as eloquent and elegant in his message as always. He said, “Even if we lose, we still move forward.” I have to believe that. Despite our differences, let us all keep moving forward with strength, hope, and tenacity. In our personal relationships, our political ambitions, and our financial lives.

Hillary said it well in her concession speech. “Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted.” That’s the message that will keep me focused on the future. Because, as President Obama stressed in his speech, “The sun will come up in the morning.” It did. It will. And we too shall shine.

If you’re concerned about the results of the election and how it may impact the markets, your investments, and your future, let’s talk. As always, I’m here to help.

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All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Lauren S. Klein, President, Klein Financial Advisors, Inc. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and we make no representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Read More >